September 16

St. Cornelius

St. Cornelius

St Cornelius was a Pope in the early Christian Church from March 251 andthe papacy ended in June 253. Pope Cornelius was born in Rome and hedied in 253. Because of the style of writing in his letters, StCornelius is believed not to have been from a wealthy family and did notreceive any sophisticated education.

He was a Pope during a time when persecution of the church and adivision among the church.

Church Persecution

Emperor Decius who ruled from 249 to 251 AD was responsible forChristian persecution. Initially it was just sporadic but from January250 he ordered all citizens to perform a religious sacrifice in thepresence of commissioners otherwise they would face death. This resultedin the death of many Christians who had refused and there are alsoothers who partook in order save their lives.

It was after this incident that resulted in two schools of thought withregards to those who had stopped practicing Christianity during thosetimes of persecution.

During the times of the church persecution, it was not possible to electa successor and the papal seat was vacant for a year. During these timesthe church was under the leadership of various priests includingNovatian. When Decius left Rome to fight the invading Goths, the churchseized the opportunity and they elected Cornelius as the new Pope inMarch 251.

Conflict in the Church

There were conflicts over how the repented church members who used topractice pagan sacrifices to protect themselves during the times ofpersecution could be readmitted to the church. St Cornelius was for theidea that these repented people should be restored to communion with thechurch after varying forms of penance.

This was however not what the Novationists (those in led by Novatian whowas a priest in a Roman diocese) who strongly believed that those whofailed to maintain their confession should never be received again intocommunion with the church even they repented. The Novatians were alsofor the idea that idolatry was unpardonable and the church had noauthority to forgive it with only God having that authority.

Even after St Cornelius was ordained as the pope, those who supportedNovatian did not acknowledge him and they even consecrated Novatian as abishop. Both parties sent out letters to other bishops seeking supportand recognition. St Cornelius had the support of many bishops yetNovatian had the support of minority clergyman and laymen.

This disagreement resulted in a rift in the church and it becamewidespread as each side worked towards gathering support. Even though StCornelius held a synod of 60 bishops, which is an assembly of theclergymen and he managed to excommunicate the Novatian, the controversyregarding these lapsed members continued for years.

Church persecution resumed in 251 under Emperor Trebonianus Gallus whowas the successor to Decius. This unrest resulted in St Cornelius beingsent into exile in Centumcellae, Italy and he died there in 253. Thereare accounts that state that he was beheaded on the 14th of Septembereven though initial reports stated that he died from hardships of beingexiled.


St Cornelius was venerated as one of the Four Holy Marshals in theRhineland during the Middle Ages. His Saint Day is celebrated on 16September.

He is the patron against earache, epilepsy, fever, twitching, and alsoof cattle, domestic animals, earache sufferers, epileptics, and the townof Kornelimünster, Germany, where his head is enshrined.

5 Interesting Facts About St. Cornelius

  1. There were at least 50 000 Christians in Rome during St Cornelius’
    time as a pope.
  2. St Cornelius is not buried in the chapel of the popes but in a
    nearby catacomb.
  3. The letters that Cornelius sent whilst he was in exile are all
    written in Colloquial Latin.
  4. His remains miraculously consented to the marriage of two lovers
    after the bride’s father had said he would only allow them to get
    married if Pope Cornelius agreed.
  5. There is a legend that there were pagan soldiers who were chasing
    him and he turned them into stones.

Prayer to St. Cornelius

God our Father,in Saints Cornelius and Cyprianyou have given your people an inspiring exampleof dedication to the pastoral ministryand constant witness to Christ in their suffering.May their prayers and faith give us courageto work for the unity of your Church.Amen.